Wayne Collett: Athlete who staged a Black Power protest at the 1972 Olympic Games

After receiving his silver medal for second place in the 400 metres at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Wayne Collett stood on the podium alongside the gold medallist Vince Matthews.

They turned away from the American flag, and with hands on hips, chatted casually until The Star Spangled Banner had finished. Then, as Matthews twirled his medal, Collett gave a black-power salute.

It was a far less dramatic protest than the famed bowed-head clenched fist demonstration by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City four years before, but the official response was even more emphatic. In Mexico, the United States Olympic Committee had refused to expel Smith and Carlos from the games until the IOC threatened to disqualify the entire US athletics team. This time, when the IOC President Avery Brundage, who as head of the USOC in 1936 Berlin had authorised Americans to give the Nazi salute, called Matthews and Collett's actions a "disgusting display", the US team immediately sent them home. In their absence, and an injury to John Smith, the US withdrew from the 4x400m relay and Great Britain took the silver medal behind Kenya.

If Collett's political theatre failed to make the impact of Smith's and Carlos's, it was also far overshadowed by the tragedy of the kidnapped Israeli Olympians that cast a shadow over the Munich Games. It had an improvised quality. "I couldn't stand there and sing the words because I don't believe they're true," Collett said. On the 20th anniversary of Munich, he explained further, saying, "I love America. I just don't think it's lived up to its promise. I'm not anti-American at all. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in America at the time."

Collett had gone to Munich a heavy favourite after winning the US Olympic trials with the fastest 400m time recorded at sea level, 44.1 seconds, beating a field that included Lee Evans, whose world record had been set in Mexico's altitude four years earlier. Collett, and Smith, his college team-mate at UCLA, expected to finish one-two, but Smith pulled up hurt in the final, and Matthews was the surprise winner in 44.66, with Collett second in 44.80.

Born in Los Angeles, Collett was a high school track star who stayed at home to attend UCLA. Built powerfully at 6ft 2in and 180lb, he was dominant in the collegiate 440 yard race, and ran the anchor leg on three consecutive national championship 4x440 relay teams. His coach, Frank Bush, called him the greatest athlete he had ever coached. In 1972 he had supported Collett, saying, "I was disappointed and told him that to his face, but I love him just as much as I did before the Olympics."

After Munich, Collett returned to UCLA, where he had already earned his BA, and took business and law degrees. "People say that Mark Spitz's gold medals are worth $5 million to him," he said at the time. "One of my professors told me what I did cost me $100,000. Maybe it did, but my peace of mind, being able to sleep at night, being able to live with myself, is worth that much." He went on to practise law in Los Angeles before moving into real estate and mortgage brokering.

Collett died after a long battle with cancer, and is survived by his wife Emily and two sons, Aaron and Wayne II. On the 40th anniversary of Munich, he was asked if, knowing what he does now, he would have taken the same action. "Things are very different today," he said, "but I've never been one to sing the anthem. It's not my style."

Wayne Curtis Collett, athlete, lawyer, businessman: born Los Angeles 20 October 1949; married (two sons); died Los Angeles 17 March 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine